Tristan Morton, 12, a student at St. Michael School in Augusta, was notified recently that his entry for the essay contest hosted by the Daughters of the American Revolution was selected for second place among 6th grade entries nationally. He is shown outside of the Maine State House holding his awards and his essay. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

AUGUSTA — Tristan Morton was captivated by the story of when “The Stars and Stripes Forever” was first performed in Philadelphia in 1897.

In an essay, Morton recalled how an audience of hundreds of people at Willow Grove Park awaited the performance of the new march song.

“All of a sudden the audience was hushed when 28 instruments started to play and John Philip Sousa started to conduct,” Morton wrote.

Morton, a 12-year-old who recently completed sixth grade at St. Michael School in Augusta, placed second nationally for his grade in the Daughters of the American Revolution’s American History essay contest.

The Daughters of the American Revolution is a nonprofit, nonpolitical volunteer women’s service organization. Founded in 1890, the group promotes historic preservation, education and patriotism. There are currently over 3,000 chapters across the world, consisting of about 190,000 members altogether.

The DAR provides various educational resources for children, including essay contests, awards and scholarships. It supports schools within communities, promoting education in youth and giving them opportunities to succeed.

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The group’s “American History Essay Contest” is one of those opportunities, allowing students from grades 5-8 to write an essay on the assigned topic. The DAR American History Committee was created in 1956, according to Julia Smythe, the Maine state chair of the contest. This group within the DAR is in charge of administering the essay contest.

The topic for the essay changes every year, allowing students to have more variety each year if they compete in more than one year. It is open to students in public, private and parochial schools, as well as homeschooling programs. The essays are judged on criteria that include historical accuracy, adherence to the topic, originality and spelling. For every contest level, there are three independent judges who score the essays based on merits provided by the national DAR.

After the local chapter’s contest, one essay is chosen from each grade and sent for state-level judging. The winning essay is then judged divisionally before being sent to the national competition. Chapter winners receive bronze medals and certificates, state winners receive silver medals and certificates, divisional winners receive a certificate and a book, and national winners receive a special certificate, pin, and monetary award. Second- and third-place winners of the national contest also receive certificates and monetary awards.

This year’s essay topic was John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” which became the national march of the U.S. on Dec. 11, 1987. The essayists had to imagine that it was 1897, and they were reporters who had to write an article about the new song that was being performed for the first time that day. The article had to tell about Sousa’s life and the story behind the composition, as well as including the “reporter’s” thoughts about the music and how the audience reacted.

The American History Essay has been a longstanding tradition at Morton’s Catholic school, but his teacher had connections to the local chapters of the DAR, which he noted was helpful when preparing for the contest.

Tristan Morton, 12, a student at St. Michael School in Augusta, was notified recently that his entry for the essay contest hosted by the Daughters of the American Revolution was selected for second place among 6th grade entries nationally. He is shown outside of the Maine State House. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Morton won the local, state, and divisional 6th-grade competitions before his essay was entered into the national contest for his grade. He wrote his essay in October and received news that he won the local competition in December. After that, it was a whirlwind of essay entries into the state and divisional contests between January and March and finding out that his essay would be moving on to the national contest.

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In May, he received the news that his essay placed second nationally in the 6th-grade contest.

“I felt proud because the essay didn’t write itself, and I worked hard on it,” Morton said in an interview.

Morton’s parents, retired Army Reserve officers Col. Marleen Lajoie and Col. Jeffrey Morton, got to watch their son present his essay to the local DAR group based in Augusta — the Koussinoc Chapter — in March and attended the state reception with him in April.

“We are super proud of him and all of his effort. Tristan put in the hard work and got to see the reward,” Jeffrey Morton said.

The family also attended the National DAR Conference in Washington, D.C., which was held June 26-30. At the conference, Morton received his recognition of second place.

“We are thrilled with everyone who participates and are excited to work with Tristan over the next few years,” said Smythe, the Maine state chair of the contest. “We are all very proud of him.”

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